When computers fail, Herald can’t go back to lead type

Imagine a mechanic diagnosing and repairing a car’s engine while the vehicle is speeding down the road.

And the driver is trying to beat the clock.

That’s the position in which Herald Technical Services Manager Michael Lapham found himself Wednesday night. The Herald’s news desk and the sports desk worked to finish editing stories and putting articles and photos on pages to make the deadline for Thursday’s edition. If editors made that deadline, the press would start on time, route drivers would get their papers on schedule and The Herald would be on your doorstep when you expected it.

As with many businesses, much of what The Herald does depends on computers and networks, which sometimes fail, usually without warning.

On Wednesday at 9:15 p.m., 90 minutes before the Herald’s deadline, Lapham got a call at home. The computers and servers that allow editors to create newspaper pages had failed.

Sometimes the solution to such a failure is simple: just reboot the computer and go home.

But Wednesday night was different.

“As soon as I saw the problem, I got sick to my stomach,” Lapham said Friday, even as work continued to restore lost data and return things to normal.

Simply put, Lapham said, the system’s server, where data files are stored, had been corrupted and could not locate data. No data, no pages.

Putting things simply is one of Lapham’s skills, said the Herald’s publisher, David Dadisman.

“He’s able to dumb everything down for people like me when a server or disk has been corrupted. What does that mean? And what we have to do to get back on our feet?” Dadisman said.

Lapham worked first to restore some functionality for editors, who then were able to work outside the system. A page template, taken from a sports editor’s thumb drive, allowed editors to begin cobbling together pages, sometimes copying stories that had already been sent to the HeraldNet website. It resembled desktop publishing more than newspaper production.

The computer system The Herald uses is a network of software programs, processes and hardware used by the newspaper’s different departments. Knowing how those programs and processes work together is another of Lapham’s talents. As is listening to an employee describe a problem and then determining where the failure lies.

Lapham must stay current on technologies that evolve quickly. He reads online forums and articles and can point to a stack of magazines “that high” on his desk waiting to be read.

“You have to be a very smart person,” said the manager in charge of information services, Jorge Rivera. “You have to be very knowledgeable. You have to be resilient and not get frustrated and stick with it until it’s fixed.”

Lapham stuck with it, running diagnostics, talking with software and hardware company technicians as processes were brought back online, one at a time. Lapham got no sleep Wednesday night, and managed six hours Thursday night before returning to mop-up remaining problems Friday.

In the end, Lapham said, it was a credit to employees, from the newsroom to the pressroom, that The Herald was only an hour late getting to route drivers Thursday morning.

It’s challenging work with an added demand, Rivera noted, because The Herald has almost 50,000 people who wake up and expect to find their paper on their doorsteps in the morning.

Each week, Here at The Herald provides an inside peek at the newspaper. Is there something you would like to know? Email executive editor Neal Pattison at npattison@heraldnet.com.

More in Local News

Families begin relocating from public housing complex

Baker Heights is in need of repairs deemed to costly to make, and will be demolished and replaced.

Trail work by juvenile offenders builds resumes, confidence

Kayak Point trails were built out this year by groups from Denney Juvenile Justice Center.

Small fire breaks out at haunted house in Everett

Plastic that was supposed to be noncombustable was sitting next to a hot lightbulb.

Rules of the road for ‘extra-fast pedestrians’ — skateboarders

State traffic law defines them as pedestrians, and yet they are often in the middle of the street.

Distress beacon leads rescuers to Pacific Crest Trail hikers

Two men in their 20s had encountered snow and waited two nights for a helicopter rescue.

Volunteers clean up homeless camp infested with garbage

The organization’s founder used to live and do drugs in the same woods.

Everett mayoral campaign is one of the priciest ever

Many campaign donors are giving to both Cassie Franklin and Judy Tuohy.

City of Everett to give $400K to a nonprofit housing project

The city expects to enter a contract with HopeWorks, an affiliate of Housing Hope.

The way he walked led to police to Everett murder suspect

Then, witnesses said they had heard the man and an alleged accomplice talking about a robbery.

Most Read